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Lot 713





Estimate: 1'500 CHF   |   Starting price: 1'500 CHF Price realized: 2'400 CHF
The Knights of St. John in Malta. Jean de la Vallette, 49th Grand Master, 1557-1568. Zecchino, n.d. AV 3.40 g. F.IOANNES DE - V/A/L/L/E/T/E The Grand Master kneeling l., receiving from St. John, nimbate and standing r., staff with the flag of the Order; below flag, M/I and rosette. Rev. DA MICHI VIRTVTEM - CONTRA HOSTES TVO Within mandorla, Christ, nimbate, standing facing, holding Book of Gospels in his l. hand, his r. hand raised in benediction; in field l., four stars, r. five stars. Azzopardi, Malta 671; Fr. 5; Restelli-Sammut 41, 1 and pl. IV, 8; Schembri 42, 1 and pl. 4, 4.
Rare in this quality. Extremely fine
Provenance: De Nicola, Rome - Fixed Price List June 1966, 21
Grand Master Jean de la Vallette, 1557-1568.Jean de la Vallette is the most famous Grand Master of them all because of his outstanding leadership during the great siege of 1565, when a huge force of Turkish troops sent by Suleiman the Magnificent failed to overcome the dogged resistance of the vastly outnumbered defenders of Borgo and Senglea. His reign did not begin all that well since he joined with an ultimately disastrous Spanish attempt on the north African island of Gerba in 1560 that crippled the Spanish fleet for several years and allowed Turkish ships and Barbary corsairs to raid wherever they wished. Had the Turks attacked Malta during this period no aid would have been able to get through. The Grand Master did his best to prepare the island for attack; in April 1565 he received a small quantity of reinforcements from the Viceroy of Sicily, Don Garcia de Toledo, who promised to send more if at all possible. Toledo has, in fact, had a rather bad press among historians of the Order because of what was seen as his dilatory reaction to the Island’s peril. This seems not to be fair: Toledo knew that if he sent a relief force that was defeated, Sicily and southern Italy would be left open to attack. Thus, if he was to send reinforcements they had to be powerful enough to be effective. Assembling such a force proved more time-consuming than expected; but as we will see, when it finally arrived the Turks fled before it. The Turkish invasion arrived on 19 May under the divided command of Mustapha Pasha, in control of the army, and with the fleet commanded by Admiral Piali, whose father-in-law was Suleiman’s son Selim, the future Sultan. This division proved to be the salvation of Malta since Piali insisted on making the safety of the fleet his first priority and so over-ruled Mustapha Pasha’s more sensible strategic plans for the capture of the island. By the time the experienced corsair Dragut arrived several weeks later (the Sultan had given him full authority over both of the expedition commanders) the situation on the ground could not be changed. The Turkish forces consisted of 40,000 soldiers against whom were ranged about 5000 defenders; perhaps 540 knights and sergeants, some 400 Spanish soldiers from Sicily, and about 4000 Maltese. The Turkish attack first concentrated on Fort St. Elmo, which is situated on the tip of the Sciberras peninsula and controlled access to both the Grand Harbor before Borgo and the northern harbor of Marsamuscetto where Admiral Piali wished to moor his fleet. Given the extensive artillery the Turks brought and their overwhelming superiority in manpower it was expected that the fort would last three days; in fact, thanks to the incredible courage of the defenders and the care taken by de la Vallette to introduce reinforcements and remove the badly wounded every night by sea, the fort only fell on 23 June. The cost to the Turkish attackers was enormous: they may have lost as much as 6000 soldiers (including Dragut and a few other commanders who were hit by Hospitaller artillery fire) against a total of 1500 defenders. Mustapha Pasha was so enraged by his losses that he had the bodies of the dead knights nailed to crosses and floated across the Grand Harbor; de la Vallette retaliated by decapitating all his Turkish prisoners and shooting their heads into the Turkish trenches with his cannon. The siege of Borgo and Senglea continued for more than two months. On 29 June, when the Turks were still confused from their victory over fort St. Elmo, a relief force, known as the Piccolo Soccorso and consisting of 600 Spanish soldiers, 56 trained artillerymen and 42 knights who had assembled in Sicily waiting for a chance to get to Malta, slipped through the Turkish blockade and arrived in Borgo. A nearly successful attack on Senglea on 7 August was repulsed with the help of a raid on the Turkish camp by the Order’s cavalry who de la Vallette had prudently based in Notabile since the invasion began. By early September the situation had become dire for the defenders (only about 600 fully capable soldiers were still alive), but it was also very difficult for the Turks since bad weather would soon set in making their position precarious. At that moment de Toledo landed 8000 soldiers, the first half of his expeditionary force at Mellieha Bay on the north of the island: when the Turkish troops learnt of the landing they panicked and immediately fled to their ships. The day they fled, 8 September, was also the date of the feast of the Nativity of the Virgin and from then on has been celebrated in Malta as Victory Day. However, that same day, while the Turks were embarking, Mustapha Pasha learnt that the relief force was much smaller than he had initially thought and ordered his troops to disembark again. The Spanish troops and all the Knights from Notabile then charged the Turks and drove them, with great slaughter, to St. Paul’s Bay in the north, where all the survivors embarked on their fleet and sailed off. This victory had major repercussions for European history. Had the Ottomans taken Malta and destroyed the relieving force they would have had a base that would have been perfect both for an assault on Sicily and southern Italy and for attacks on all the shipping in the western Mediterranean. A successful attack on Sicily would have forced the King of Spain to focus all his resources on defense against the Turkish menace and he would have surely been unable to use so much money and manpower in his attempt to suppress the Dutch Revolt or to attack England with the Armada in 1588. The imminent Turkish threat would have also constrained the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor in their relations with the Protestants since they would have undoubtedly viewed the Ottomans as a greater menace. As it was, coupled with the victory of the Spanish and allied fleet (including galleys of the Knights) over the Turks at Lepanto in 1571, the whole situation in the Mediterranean was stabilized: the West received a psychological boost with the proof that the Turks were no longer invincible. La Vallette did not live to see Lepanto, but he did begin the new city of Valletta on the Sciberras peninsula, the foundation stone of which was laid on 28 March 1566. Designed by the celebrated Papal military engineer, Francesco Laparelli (a student of Michelangelo), it was to become the center of the most impregnable fortress of all Europe. La Vallette’s coinage consisted of gold and silver coins, small copper pieces and a series of ‘fiduciary’ copper coins, with the silver values of 4, 2 and 1 Tari, Carlino (half- tari) and Cinquina (quarter-tari), that were intended to be redeemed in full at a later date (they were basically for local use to free up silver for building and other expenses).

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